EDUCAUSE Policy Topic: Accountability
The cost of higher education to students and their families has grown significantly faster than the rate of inflation for many years. Tuition and other costs of attendance have reached the point that the ability to afford a college education without incurring high levels of student debt has been called into question for not just low-income but also middle-class Americans. At the same time, the necessity of postsecondary education success to individual as well as national economic viability has become clear to the point of being a widely accepted fact. Few Americans can reach and maintain a middle-class or higher income without a postsecondary degree or credential, and the nation as a whole cannot maintain and advance its status as an economic world leader without a high percentage of postsecondary achievement. This difficult convergence of decreasing affordability and growing necessity has produced an ever-rising tide of accountability for colleges and universities, with technology assuming center stage in terms of proposed solutions.
As the public and policy-makers pressure institutions to raise efficiency and productivity to reduce the cost of higher education, colleges and universities increasingly look to options such as data-driven decision making based on analytics to improve academic and administrative performance, as well as e-learning and open educational resources to expand affordable access to learning opportunities. At the same time, the demand of higher education stakeholders for data on which to assess the learning outcomes achieved through public and individual investment in higher education, and to modify such investment accordingly, has led to increased efforts to incorporate higher education student data into statewide longitudinal data systems, where it can be combined with K-12 and workforce data to ostensibly track institutional performance in light of student achievement. To facilitate this process, policy-makers and government agencies are rethinking and in some cases revising long-standing laws and regulations governing student data privacy and security, raising concerns that undue risks to students, families, and institutions will be created in the process.
EDUCAUSE Policy seeks to highlight the degree to which technology can effectively help institutions and the country as a whole achieve the twin goals of affordable higher education access and greater higher education achievement, both directly and through better, data-driven decision making. At the same time, we try to ensure that policy debates on higher education accountability reflect the reality of where technology truly can impact policy objectives as well as the unintended consequences of not fully accounting for those realities in establishing policies and regulations.